Decision of the Complaints Committee 03503-15 A woman v Dunfermline Press
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Dunfermline Press had breached Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published online and in print in April 2015.
2. The article reported that an individual had been charged with sexual offences against a child. The complainant expressed concern that the article contained details that would contribute to the identification of the alleged victim.
3. The complainant also noted that the article had been posted on the publication’s Facebook page, where it could be commented on by Facebook users. This was irresponsible, and in doing so the newspaper had exposed the child to the danger of identification. In fact an individual had posted a story (from a source not regulated by IPSO) containing similar information on his personal Facebook page, and the child had been identified by commenters.
4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It had taken legal advice prior to publication of the print article, and did not consider that any of the information included in either version could have led to the identification of the child. It noted that the reporting of such cases was in the public interest.
6. The newspaper had first become of aware of the concerns when it had been contacted by an individual (later discovered to be the complainant) expressing concern about the comments below the story on the publication’s Facebook page. The news editor had then reviewed these comments, and had not found any that were likely to contribute to the identification of the alleged victim. Nonetheless, the article had been deleted from Facebook as a gesture of goodwill. The newspaper could not be held responsible for the comments posted by an individual on his personal Facebook page on an article published by another news organisation.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 7 (Children in sex cases)
1. The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.
2. In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child-
i) The child must not be identified.
ii) The adult may be identified.
iii) The word “incest” must not be used where a child victim might be identified.
iv) Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.
Clause 11(Victims of sexual assault)
The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to their identification unless there is adequate public interest and they are legally free to do so.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee acknowledged the tension between the principle of open justice and the protection of children, enshrined within the Code.
8. In this case, the article had not included details which would contribute to the identification of the alleged victim. There was no breach of Clause 7 or Clause 11. The Committee noted that it was constrained in setting out its reasons for this conclusion in its published decision by the need to ensure that it did not contribute to the victim’s identification in so doing.
9. The newspaper was not responsible for the comments made identifying the child on social media, which had been posted on an individual’s unmoderated page in relation to a different article (albeit one that included substantially similar material).
10. Nonetheless, the Committee took this opportunity to draw to editors’ attention the need for care in such cases to avoid creating a forum for speculation as to the victim’s identity. While editors are not in a position to constrain the circulation of links to stories and commentary on them hosted on third-party websites, consideration should be given to whether stories involving victims of sexual assault can safely be published on publications’ social media sites – particularly where they will be open to comments.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 07/05/2015
Date decision issued: 27/07/2015Back to ruling listing